vision 2020

Democratic Field Shrinks, Debate Stage Expands

Tim Ryan will be watching Amy Klobuchar from the sidelines when candidates debate next month in Georgia. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

If you subscribe to the “lanes” theory of the 2020 Democratic presidential nominating contest, you will be interested to know that a minor shakeout has occurred in the “moderate lane” today. First of all, Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio has finally dropped out of the race, as NBC reports:

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, ended his long-shot presidential campaign after months of struggling to find a footing in the crowded Democratic field

“I got into this race in April to really give voice to the forgotten people of our country: the workers who have been left behind, the businesses who have been left behind, the people who need health care or aren’t getting a quality education, or are saddled by tremendous debt,” Ryan said in the video. “I’m proud of this campaign because I believe we’ve done that. We’ve given voice to the forgotten communities and the forgotten people in the United States.”

Maybe so, but it’s more likely that Ryan is one of those forgotten people himself. He departs from the race with a favorability ratio (according to Morning Consult) of 22/17. Yes, 26 percent of Democrats say they’ve never heard of him, but it’s probably more alarming that 35 percent have heard of him but have formed no opinion of the nine-term congressman. He was sort of a blast from the past, the kind of candidate who might have found some traction earlier in this century, when Ohio was the ultimate battleground state. Here’s what I said of him when he entered the race in April:

There is no question Ryan comes out of central casting for a candidate aiming strictly at white working-class men in places very much like his own base of Youngstown, Ohio, where he apprenticed with the famously eccentric but consistently bitter enemy of economic globalism James Traficant. (A bribery conviction landed the old goofball in the hoosegow; Ryan took his House seat in 2002.) For years in Congress he exemplified the sort of economic populist/social conservative blend that once characterized most Catholic Democrats from the so-called Rust Belt, combining attacks on the corporations that were moving manufacturing jobs out of the region (and the country) with support for gun rights and abortion restrictions.

Ryan modernized his policies more than a bit in recent years (becoming pro-choice and breaking with the NRA), and even got a rep for marginal hipness as a hot-yoga practitioner. But his efforts to topple Nancy Pelosi from her speakership annoyed feminists and progressives, and he didn’t impress many in his two debate appearances this summer. It’s not a good sign that a dude like Ryan is running well behind a gay man from Indiana and a woman from Minnesota among those candidates pushing an “I can win the heartland” message. So it’s sensible of him to concentrate on hanging onto his House seat.

Meanwhile, that woman from Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar, rode a generally well-received October 15 debate performance to a spot on the stage in the November 20 debate in Georgia, hitting the minimum qualifying 3 percent in two national polls released this week (she already had two other qualifying polls). That means of the 12 October 15 debaters, only three have failed so far to meet November’s higher thresholds for donors and poll showings: Beto O’Rourke (who needs two more qualifying polls), Tulsi Gabbard (who needs three), and Julián Castro (who needs a full set of four). None of the six remaining candidates who missed the October cut (Bennet, Bullock, Delaney, Sestak, Williamson, and Messam) seem to be close to qualifying.

What Klobuchar really needs is better numbers in Iowa, where she’s running a poor seventh in the RealClearPolitics polling averages. If she doesn’t do a lot better than that in the caucuses, given her proximity and familiarity as a pol from next-door Minnesota, she likely won’t get much of a look later for the much-coveted role of moderate alternative to Biden. It’s not easy to excite people with cautionary rhetoric about other candidates’ progressivism — or even with an impressive list of executive actions she’ll take as president — but Klobucher needs to try and step it up.

For Whom Does the Bell Toll? It Tolls for Tim.